In the first eighteen months of the new Fortress Mamea, our chicken flock increased a number of times. (We can’t remember how many times; we’re softies with fuzzy memories.)
How could we say no to the girls when they got broody? They were merely heeding the call of nature. And when the fertilised eggs hatched and there were soon cheeping puffballs of fluff underfoot — how could we say no to life itself?
When some of the puffballs grew into ambitious young roosters and started beating up on Ghost Dog, ending the aspirants’ lives was an easy choice. After a couple of culls, I called a moratorium on our chickens having babies. It’s all well and good when everyone’s getting along, I could imagine my mother lecturing me, until it’s time for someone to end up in the pot.
The flock has remained at a steady twenty or so the past eighteen months. It’s required vigilance: collecting eggs every single day, turfing wannabe broodies out of the laying boxes so they don’t get ideas.
Throughout the month of December, I noticed one of our chickens behaving suspiciously. What with the festive season and everything else, her movements were noted but not closely observed.
Still Life With Chickens was going to be a co-writing venture with my Lovely Wife. She came up with the title and the concept, and I suspect she envisioned a situation where she would roam the study reeling off dialogue and scenes while I sat dutifully at the keyboard and typed everything in.
Because I love my wife dearly and I value our marriage, I worked on the play in secret for two years, and presented the script to her — crediting her appropriately, of course — as a fait accompli.
I acknowledge my fellow longlistees, in particular Maraea Rakuraku for kindly accepting this award on my behalf.
Thanks to Creative New Zealand for its support in getting the first draft to the finish line.
Thanks to Playmarket: Murray, Salesi, Kirsty, Allison — and before Allison, Stuart Hoar — for their tireless work in developing, supporting and hustling for New Zealand playwrights.
Thank you to the Adam aiga for these awards.
And thank you to my Lovely Wife who believes in me more than I do.
Sharp-eyed (and long-suffering) readers of this blog may have put lua and two together to know that I’m working on a new play called Still Life With Chickens. It’s about an elderly Samoan woman who reluctantly adopts a barnevelder chicken and learns that there’s more to her sunset years than waiting for death.
I don’t usually announce projects in development but since Creative New Zealand has kindly provided a grant (and I’m a week behind on feeding this blog), I thought, What’s the harm in putting pressure on myself by announcing a work-in-progress that I’ll probably be asked about ad nauseum?
Fortress Mamea is not an actual fortress. I have described various parts of it with fortress-like words (like armoury) — all of the parts exist… but in a real-world Kiwi quarter-acre section and house kind of way. (Hey, what did you expect? I’m a writer.)
And the reason for this moment of truth is that the inhabitants of Fortress Mamea are leaving West Auckland and moving north where — with, as always, the Goddess’ indulgence — a new home has been established.
Located in the rolling hills outside of Whangarei, the new, more substantial and redoubtable Fortress Mamea is over fourteen acres of land, bounded on three sides by a moat stream, and includes:
The chickens provide fodder for tall tales in Fortress Mamea.
Yesterday, the Goddess returned home late and asked, “Did anyone feed the chickens?”
The Children Teens ignored her aural query, preferring their online and cellular communications. I allowed the pause to lengthen until I finally said, “They were picketing with signs demanding No GST on Fruit and Veges and $15 Minimum Wage NOW, so I confiscated the placards and fed the buggers.”
The Goddess gave me a gentle peck of thanks. “A simple yes would have sufficed.”
There’s something I like about this pic of Beethoven: the speed blur, the beady-freaking eye -. I know: her hope that there’s food beside the camera.
Last Sunday, a dog – the same one as last time – breached Fortress Mamea and attacked Beethoven. I’ve tried to write up the circumstances of the discovery a few times now but they kept yanking the post – understandably – into righteous and incandescent Frank Castle revenge fantasies.
So. A dog got another of our chickens. This one I had to put out of her misery. I’m still quite angry at how avoidable it all could have been but what’s done is done.
Beethoven was the oldest of our current squadron and, although not the brightest or most interesting, was a big fan of The Goddess’ garden (it led, at times, to some stern heart-to-hearts between them) and never passed up the offer of crickets and worms found on the property.
A fine shower of BANTAM MIX descends on FOUR CHICKENS who set upon gobbling up the tasty seed ingredients.
THE GODDESS, dressed for Her day job, tosses up another handful of bantam mix --
-- a second shower of bantam mix falls about the chickens, the beaks pecking greedily in all directions.
One chicken in particular – we shall call her BUFFY – looks up from the seeds on the ground and goes up to The Goddess.
Buffy pecks Her TROUSERS.
Buffy pecks at Her trousers again.
She crouches beside the chicken – Buffy opens her wings at the sudden movement and we see that the clipped feathers from the previous episode are MUCH shorter now – and offers a palm of bantam mix. Buffy pecks at the proffered seeds.
The Goddess looks over her shoulder --
ANGLE ON our WRITER, also dressed for his day job, looking on from the BACKYARD.
All’s well that ends well, eh?
The Goddess looks at the chicken eating out of her hand.
CLOSE on Her look of satisfaction.
EXT. MEADOW – AFTERNOON
Three chickens crowd the GATE, looking out into the backyard.
We hear a car door open in the distance as --
EXT. DRIVEWAY – CONTINUOUS
-- our Writer closes the door of the SPORTSWAGON and --
EXT. BACKYARD – CONTINUOUS
-- he wearily approaches the BACKDOOR. He sees the chickens staring at him through the gate.
He looks down to see a lone chicken standing before him, opening and closings her wings with some measure of pride.
He crouches in front of her, holding up his CELLPHONE, thumb holding down the ‘Camera’ button. He frames the chicken who pecks at his trouser leg – and takes a photo.
I hereby rename you....
ANGLE ON our Writer’s cellphone screen as he selects The Goddess’s cell number – he thumbs ‘Send’.
... Steve McQueen.
No chickens were harmed in either the actual events or this subsequent dramatisation.
FOUR CHICKENS excitedly gobble down STALE BREAD CRUMBS.
Hey girls. You like that?
ANGLE ON THE GODDESS as she peers through the fence from the BACKYARD.
One chicken in particular – we recognise BUFFY from our earlier episode – looks up before gingerly moving her right wing: we see that a number of feathers have been shorn in an unnatural but geometric straight line.
EXT. BACKYARD – CONTINUOUS
The Goddess grasps a fence paling in one hand as --
Look, it hurt me much more than it hurt you to do that.
It was for your own good.
INT. KITCHEN – LATER
Our WRITER enters with some DIRTY DISHES. Movement outside catches his eye.
EXT. BACKYARD – MOMENTS LATER
Buffy stretches her wings defiantly as she approaches the GARDEN.
We hear a backdoor opening.
The books said clipping one wing would work.
Buffy manages a few panicked strides before she’s in The Goddess’s arms.
She and her captor stare at each other, not moving.
The chicken cranes her neck to eye her captor RIGHT IN HER FACE. She doesn’t blink.
A muscle twitches in The Goddess’s cheek.
A long beat.
The Goddess strides into the HOUSE, chicken in arm.